Crystal–clear water, white sands, palm trees that sway in the soft breeze, the gentle sound of the incoming surf, an empty plastic bottle surrounded by cigarette butts…
Wait, a plastic bottle? Cigarette butts?
It may sound surreal, however, pollution is a sad reality. Unfortunately, man-made plastic particles can nowadays be found in the most pristine places. Whether it’s Mount Everest or the Mariana Trench, microplastics and synthetic debris appear to be everywhere. And litter can pose a huge threat to wildlife.
But why do people litter? In this article, we attempt to explore some of the basic psychological phenomena behind littering and investigate reasons why public places fall victim to contamination.
The Tragedy Of Public Spaces
In 1968, Garrett Hardin already described the difficulty of managing the ‘commons’. Sadly, individuals tend not to feel personally responsible for the cleanliness of places that belong to everyone. Those who carelessly leave their rubbish in a public park would not usually litter their own private gardens. In public spaces, people often expect somebody else to clean up after them.
Unfortunately, litter from anywhere on land will end up in the ocean once it enters waterways such as rivers or streams. It is therefore impossible to view terrestrial litter as separate from marine litter. They are both interchangeable, one easily turns into the other.
Litter leads to More Litter
Psychologists who have studied the concept of littering believe that environmental cues and the existing conditions of somebody’s surroundings can play a vital role.
People are less likely to litter in places that are completely free of debris and well maintained. If plenty of visible debris is teamed with poor access to rubbish bins, it is easy to assume an additional item of litter will not make a significant difference. This ultimately leads to a fatal knock-on effect.
Environmental psychologist Lee Chambers suggests that several elements including culture, values or scenario can affect the choice to litter. People will not litter in places they care about or perceive as aesthetically pleasing. The act of cleaning up a public area thus sends out an important message to everyone.
Our response to the COVID–19 pandemic, which has shifted people to use a large number of single–use plastics, has also created a greater scope for littering. Check out our last blog–post for additional thoughts on ‘Facing a Plastic Pandemic’.
Our Mission to Drive Change
With our #BinForGreenSeas project, we try to highlight the connection between the seemingly small act of irresponsible littering and the great threat litter ultimately poses to marine life and the environment.
The 1.5 metre high, bright orange, lifebuoy–shaped bins were deliberately designed to attract attention. They not only make the correct disposal of rubbish easier and more convenient, but also serve as visual cues to illustrate the link between using any bin and protecting nature. As a society, it should be our goal to embrace eco–consciousness and ‘throw marine life a lifeline’.
Your Time to Be Brave
Gandhi advised us to be the change we wish to see in this world. The beginning of a new year is an amazing opportunity to be more aware of our own behaviour. Sometimes, small acts of kindness can go a long way.
Next time you go for a walk, why not pick up some of the litter you see lying around? On her YouTube channel ‘go gently’, actress Bonnie Wright suggests picking up a few pieces of plastic every single day, so as not to be overwhelmed by the task. You can make it your personal ritual, or you could start a large clean–up project with your family and friends.
If you witness the improper disposal of rubbish, why not politely ask people to stop littering? Be bold and take a proactive approach. Encourage others to use their voices to spread awareness. Speak up for wildlife, because carelessness can kill.
Essentially, 2022 is a fresh chance to become a super–hero. It’s your time to shine!